Pastor Philip P. Sam Teacher Pastor Assemblies of God Himachal Pradesh
“Thus says the Lord”… “The Word of God says”… “According to the word of God”… These are some of the phrases we hear commonly or use from the pulpit. When we read the Bible, we read it with the understanding and belief that the Bible is the word of God. We approach the Bible with the fundamental presupposition or belief that Bible is the Word of God. However we understand that the Bible is not a magical book which came from heaven and that it was written by humans. How can we call a book written by humans as the word of God?
How is the Bible “the word of God”? What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the ‘inspired word of God’? Did God dictate the words of the Bible or was it just some ideas that God dictated? Does the Bible contain the word of God or Is the Bible in its entirety the Word of God. These are the questions that we deal with when we discuss about the inspiration of the Bible.
What is meant by the term inspiration? The term inspiration is one which describes the guiding of God in the writing of the Scriptures. Inspiration of the Scripture deals with the process or the acts by which God guided the writing of his word.
Before moving further we need to ask another basic question. Why should we discuss about the inspiration of the Bible? Does it really matter who is the author of the Bible? Inspiration means that the Bible truly is the Word of God and makes the Bible unique among all other books. If Bible were not the word of God then how could Bible have any authority in our life? So, it does matter for us to know who the real author of the Bible is.
This article purposes first of all to study the Biblical testimony to inspiration and thereby evaluate some of the important historical views about the inspiration of the Bible and finally to arrive at a balanced understanding of inspiration and its significance for us today.
A. What does the Bible say about its own inspiration?
We need to evaluate the testimony of the Bible about its own inspiration in order to evaluate any historical views about inspiration and arrive at any significant conclusion. The two most important scripture passages that witness to the inspiration of the Bible are 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for very good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 (NKJV)
The use of “all scriptures” pasa graphe essentially means the whole or every passage of the Scripture. The word ‘inspired” theopneustos means “God breathed” and suggests that the Scripture is filled with God’s breath or spirit (inspiring). (Brown. E Raymond, Fitzmeyer A Joseph, & Murphy E. Roland (editors), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990. 1025) In these verses Apostle Paul testifies that the whole Scripture is inspired by God for the purpose of edification of the man of God. The intention of Paul in using the word “theopneustos” is to emphasize the divine origin and divine will in writing of the Scripture.
“…knowing this first that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21
Though the verse above speaks about the word of prophecy, yet we can have a grasp of the idea of inspiration that works through the whole of the Bible. Two facts are asserted here, the first is about the role of human authors and the second is about the role of the Holy Spirit. About the role of human authors, it is very clear in this verse that the writing of the Bible did not go according to the direction of the will of human authors. The writers of the Bible did not write their own views and thoughts. The role of the Holy Spirit is also evident in this verse. The Holy Spirit moved the writers to write the words of God. The Holy Spirit ensured the accuracy of what they wrote in every way.
There are numerous Bible references which indicate that the scriptures were spoken and written under the influence of the Holy Spirit. However, the Biblical view of inspiration of the Bible has come under criticism and the nature of inspiration has been discussed and debated over the course of history.
B. Historical development of the idea of inspiration
The church fathers took the inspiration of the scriptures as almost self-evident. However the way in which the Fathers understood inspiration varied from the time of NT writing till the reformation. Though the views oscillated from that of a “dictation model” to that of “God as the source or author of scripture (conceptual inspiration)” however the prophetic model of inspiration was dominant and the inspiration of the Scriptures was understood in the same way as God spoke through the prophets and used them as mediums to express his words.
Dictation model of inspiration:- According to this view the Bible was dictated word by word and the writers were passive in writing the words of God. Some of the church fathers like Augustine and Jerome have advocated this view.
Conceptual Inspiration:- This view attested in Catholic church statement of faith and doctrine, hold that the concepts in the Bible were inspired but not the words. God gave the concepts but the human authors used words from their own vocabularies and in line their own times. This view is also known as the dynamic inspiration. The human writers provide God’s message in the terms of their writing styles and historical circumstance.
The prophetic theory of inspiration influenced Christians throughout the middle ages, the reformation and is held by many contemporary Christians especially the conservatives. The prophetic theory of inspiration has had many variants in its own explanation of the way in which God spoke through the authors however the most dominant view is that of a verbal plenary inspiration.
Verbal Plenary inspiration:- This view held dear by most conservative protestant scholars emphasize that God not only gave the concept but also guided the human authors in the entire writing process so that the Bible as the word of God is true, inerrant and the revelation of God.
The verbal plenary inspiration hold the view that every scripture is the word of God and since God is true every word is true and is the revelation of God. The Bible does not contain or bear witness to revelation rather the Bible itself is revelation. (Brown. E Raymond, Fitzmeyer A Joseph, & Murphy E. Roland (editors), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990. 1028)
Historically there were still other views which advocate the partial inspiration according to which some parts are inspired while others are not. There are other schools of biblical studies which hold the view that the writers of scriptures were simply men who wrote with their religious and spiritual insight and there is no supernatural intervention in the process.
The modern era followed by enlightenment which saw the rise of historical critical studies with the availability of a number of text and versions of the Bible, raised critical questions regarding the verbal plenary understanding of the inspiration of the Bible. The There has been considerable amount of critical discussion among the Roman Catholic circles and the Protestant groups regarding the inspiration of the Bible.
Barthian Model Inspiration:- There have been attempts by some modern scholars to justify the critical studies. Notable among them is the Barthian view of inspiration to accommodate the critical studies. Karl Barth’s neo orthodox view of inspiration advocated the view that the Bible does not have any inherent authority and the words of the Bible becomes word of God only when one reads it and gets inspired by God.
How do we evaluate these views about inspiration of the Bible? The underlying reasons for the critical viewing of the inspiration of Bible are due to influence of rationalistic thinking and modern reasoning. The confusing opinions and views regarding inspiration arose due to the treatment of the Scriptures as any other literature. If the Bible is seen as a natural book then there is no question or significance of an understanding of its inspiration. Is the Bible is just another natural, historical or literary book? If yes, then why should we treat it as a revelation of God at all? Furthermore the attempt by some of the scholars like Barth to accommodate the critical studies does not do justice to the inherent value of Bible as a authoritative text. So how do we proceed as we engage with the subject of the inspiration of the Scripture?
C. What did Jesus and the apostles think of the scriptures?
In considering the inspiration of the Scriptures it is of supreme importance for us to note the value that Jesus and the apostles gave to the scriptures. It is a well known fact that Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures and clearly stated in the gospels that the smallest letter in the Law would not disappear until everything is accomplished. “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the law to fail. (Luke 16:17) When Jesus quoted the scriptures he gave it the highest accord as “the Word of God”. A reading of Mark 7:9-13 makes it clear that for Jesus, the commands given through Moses were indeed the word of God. Thus Jesus attested the role of humans as well as the authorship of God. Furthermore Jesus stressed upon the importance of the scriptures with the following statement. “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came and the scripture cannot be broken;” John 10:35
Apostle Paul considered the scriptures as the word of God as is evident from the following words that he writes to the Thessalonians church. “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” I Thessalonians 2:13
The biblical testimony to its inspiration comes more in line with the verbal plenary inspiration. Verbal means that every word of Scripture is God given. The idea is that every word in the Bible is there because God wanted it there. Plenary means that all parts of the Bible are equally authoritative. God supernaturally guided the biblical authors to write the exact things that He wanted to express.
In this line of thought some of the Scripture portions like Psalms which are expression of human emotions were also guided by the Holy Spirit in its composition. This guidance of the Holy Spirit is attested in Acts 1:16 where Peter testifies that Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David in the writing of Psalms. Some of the personal statements of the writers was also inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit in the sense that God wanted those things to be communicated to his people. For instance some of the autobiographical statements of Paul in his letters were inspired by God for us to know about the struggles and emotions of a man of God ((I Corinthians 10:1, 2 Timothy 4:13 etc).
D. Is the Bible unique in its inspiration?
Or is it just like other books which were natural historical literary process. Since every word and thought was put in the Bible because God wanted it to be there, the inspiration of Bible is unique. The inspiration of Bible is unique because it takes into account the personality, style, background and the historical context of the authors but at the same time communicating the heart and the very thoughts of God.
E. What is the significance of inspiration of the Scriptures for us today?
The inspiration of the Scriptures makes it authoritative for us today. How else could this ancient book be meaningful and relevant for us today? However we must be careful in approaching the Bible as authoritative norm.
First of all the Bible is not given by God for us to use as a rule book it is rather a dynamic book which reveals the will of God. Unfortunately the church has retorted to the Bible as a rule book from which some traditions are made and imposed. This kind of approach is making the Bible an ancient book for the people of God. The affirmative expression of the Psalmist is meaningful to quote here, “Sacrifice and offering you did no desire…Here I am, I have come to do your will.” (Psalms 40:6&7 paraphrased). God is not intending to put forward some rules and traditions for the church to follow, God wants his will to be followed by his people. The Bible is a letter written to us revealing the nature, personality and the will of our heavenly father. It is also the story of the mighty acts and works of God…a story which continues today through us if we allow him to work through us.
Secondly, only the Holy Spirit can make a meaningful interface between us and the text making the Scriptures authoritative in our life. The Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of the text must inspire us to further the word of God in and through our life. The Holy Spirit not only reveals the true meaning of the word of God but also helps us to pursue the word of God.
That the Bible is the inspired word of God means that we can rely upon and follow every word of the Scripture. The Bible is authoritative in our life and behavior. We can draw meaning, consolation and hope from the Bible because it is God’s word for us. We can count upon the Biblical promises because it not the words of fallible humans rather they are the Words of the Living God.